Teaching “Sounds of Brands” (2020), Week 1 of 15

This past Wednesday, February 5, 2020, was the first class meeting of Sounds of Brands / Brands of Sounds: The Role of Sound in the Media Landscape, a course I’ve been teaching since 2012 in San Francisco at the Academy of Art. The course is about the ways things express themselves through sound, and by “things” I mean companies, products, services, and so forth. It can be everything from the sound design of an electric vehicle to the jingle of a fast-food restaurant to the music played in a retail establishment. How sound is employed as a form of expression in the marketplace, especially beyond the realm of pop-music storytelling, is what we explore each week.

I’m hopeful to find the time this semester to detail the class sessions here on Disquiet.com, but I also know I’ve tried and failed every semester so far. I’ve occasionally started off strong, and then the realities of teaching, and work beyond school, and life beyond all of that become reality, and the posts pretty soon fade out. I’ve documented the first week of class several times in the past, so the point of today’s post — as I get tomorrow’s class materials together — is primarily to link to those posts (2012, 2015, 2016).

To recap in brief, the course is divided into three sections, as depicted in the above chart. We spend the first three weeks on Learning to Listen (aka Listening to Media); the following six weeks on the core of the course, Sounds of Brands; and then the final six weeks on the opposite proposition, Brands of Sounds, or how things related to sound (headphones, music equipment, streaming services, record labels, etc.) express themselves in non-sonic ways.

Up top is what the blackboard looked like at the end of the first day of class. The writing seen here is a repository of notes, not a structured document. I’ll unpack some of that here:

“Sound Journal” refers to the centerpiece of the homework: writing four times a week in a diary about one’s experience of and thoughts about sound.

Below that are things like “laugh -> ha” and “keyboard -> click,” a list of a half dozen or so correlations between “things” and “the sounds things make.” That’s the result of the opening exercise in the course, when students sit for 10 minutes and write down every sound they hear. There are various things that come out of the exercise, among them an opportunity to discuss the difference between object and emission. To understand that saying “car” isn’t sufficient to describe the sound a car makes is an important lessons for a student just beginning to explore sound.

The note about onomatopoeia is pointing out that several of the things people heard (the list originated as bits of the students’ work in the exercise) that much of the description is quite literally a verbal expression of the sound. But some achieve a greater, more verbal level of detail, such as the “deep, guttural” sound of a motorcycle, and the “high-pitched, repetitive beeping” of a truck backing up.

The list in the upper left-hand corner contains elements the students noted in a series of TV commercials that, creatively, employ everyday noise sources (keyboards, pencils, coffee, books) to recreate the melody of a classic jingle.

Other terms, such as “soundscape” and “anechoic,” will be discussed more in week two, which happens tomorrow. I’ll try to get the time to report back on that class meeting, and the others as the semester proceeds. There are 15 weeks in all, 16 if you include spring break. There is one class meeting each week, and it lasts roughly three hours, a mix of lecture, discussion, and in-class exercises. Students than have nine hours of homework outside of class. If you’d like a copy of the syllabus outline, shoot me an email at .

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